‘Andy J’ has quickly become a popular moniker, especially after some recent wins at historic venues both up north and down south. Drivers will often be the first to admit though that much more goes into a successful effort than the name on the roof that gets most of the recognition. One crew member in particular has been by Andy Jankowiak’s side every step of the way during his gradual climb up the short track racing ladder as well as through his entire life.
Andy’s uncle, Jake Jankowiak, brings decades of experience wrenching on Modifieds since his brother Tony (Andy’s father) began competing in the 1980s. Jake was the first to point out that it is an entire team effort at all times.
“It’s been a lot of work, but we’ve got a lot of great guys with us,” Jake Jankowiak told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We do a lot of work in the shop and we are pretty prepared when we get to the racetrack, so once we get here it works out pretty good.”
One of the finer moments in recent years was in early September when Andy, Jake and crew started Labor Day weekend off at the legendary “Steel Palace,” Oswego Speedway (NY), for the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Tour show. They arrived later than most teams as usual, electing to spend most of their time getting ready for 100 laps back at the shop. Andy used his typical driving strategy and then decided to strike, passing none other than one of the drivers to beat week in and week out, Matt Hirschman.
It was a well-earned victory, and perhaps the most excited of the bunch was Uncle Jake.
“Oswego was big for us,” Jake Jankowiak noted. “I’ve been going to Oswego for like 31 years and I always wanted to win there. We won a Sportsman race there with Karl Hehr in the 90s, and when my brother ran there it’s always been big. Oswego has always been a big deal. I could have retired right after that one.”
Moving right along, after the next day of working on their Sportsman Modified toward a decent result at Holland Speedway (NY), Jake was on the road with the team to another track entrenched in racing memories. They did the unthinkable coming from the back, getting lucky near the end, and stealing away the KOMA Unwind Modified Madness Series win from the southerners at Hickory Motor Speedway (NC).
“To win Oswego was huge, but to win Hickory was more of a surprise than anything,” Jake Jankowiak said. “When you think about the people that have been in and won at Hickory; NASCAR basically started there, and to be where Petty and Pearson were you’re like part of history. It really hasn’t sunk in yet.”
The Hickory victory had similarities to a moment which Jake shared in his younger days a few short years before Tony passed away in a wreck at Stafford Motor Speedway (CT) when Andy was only two years old.
“We went to Pulaski County (now Motor Mile Speedway) and won a race down there, and that was huge for us,” Jake Jankowiak recalled. “Steve Lynch from Miller Brick bought one of (Mike) McLaughlin’s Hutters and we had a good motor in Tony’s car. We finished third at Indianapolis Raceway Park, finished third at Oswego; that was big.”
Another memory of Jake’s was an opportunity and potential big break that almost happened for Tony.
“We were lined up to have the Frank Cicci ride before Jimmy Spencer had it,” Jake Jankowiak mentioned. “We had it and went down to Chemung, it rained out, and during the week Spencer called up Cicci and took the ride from us, but we wound up with (David) Riggs. From being out in Lancaster and to be offered two Mod Tour rides was huge. Other than Chuck Hossfeld and Erick Rudolph there’s not many people that have come out of here and get a Tour ride.”
Perhaps one day that Tour opportunity could come for Andy, but the group of family and friends continue to remain humble, enjoy the moment, and work hard toward more success.
Jake, who helps out with both the Sportsman and RoC Tour Modified along with continuing to assist racer and friend Karl Hehr in his limited starts, was a crucial part of their latest endeavors back home at Lancaster National Speedway (NY).
Andy was trying to go for his sixth straight Sportsman Modified victory with a massive turnout of 37 cars at the Western New York track for the annual U.S. Open. The tattered looking black machine with pink duct tape numbers was built much stronger than it appeared, but Andy came up a couple positions short on this particular night.
“We missed the setup a little bit,” Andy Jankowiak said. “We got into a jingle early and knocked the front end around, and we were able to get it fixed. Got the tow straightened out pretty close, and we made it back out there.
“The car got really good right at the end. We finally had a long run the last 25 laps, and with 15 to go the car got a lot better. We started putting down some really good lap times, but we lost too much ground by that point. All in all, for having a little jingle there early in a big field like that to come back and finish third I thought that was pretty good.”
The team brought their RoC Modifed out the next day and finished one spot better, but again one spot short of the win. Still, Jake realizes that their entire group has a come a long way since Andy started racing weekly at Wyoming County International Speedway (NY).
“That’s a tough track,” Jake Jankowiak commented about 1/3-mile track in Perry, New York. “To do well with the Street Stock and then I was surprised to see as good as he did with the Sportsman right from the get go. He does a good job.”
For Andy, he wouldn’t have it any differently. With a limited budget they do all they can with the resources that they have, and most importantly have a good time doing it.
“I couldn’t do it without him,” Andy Jankowiak said. “He’s always right there in the shop when we need him, and we wouldn’t have made it this far. It’s a team effort all the way with all the guys we’ve got.
“Everyone chips in and it’s a lot of work. We have to make things work sometimes. We can’t always build a lot of parts. It’s a lot of hours. We build our own bodies and fix a lot of things that people might just replace at a store. It’s a lot of work, it’s a good group of guys, and we have fun.”
The feeling is mutual for Uncle Jake.
“It’s like we’re a married couple. We don’t always get along, but I’m really proud of him. It’s a lot of work, and he’s a racer. When you win they call you a cheater and all that, but we race a lot. We’re always racing. To go to Oswego, Holland, and Hickory in one weekend it’s a lot of work. The car is in one piece and it doesn’t break most of the time. It’s not easy.”
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Central NY & PA Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: MoJo Photos